Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Look at the Health-Care Debate...

I've been closely following the health care reform debate going on in this country because I believe it to be one of the most important issues facing this nation. I think it is very important to be well informed about this so I've made a point of seeking information from a variety of sources. I've watched reports on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. I've listened to NPR and various commentators, from Rush to Olbermann. I've read numerous online sources and political blogs including The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, Michelle Malkin, The Drudge Report, The American Thinker, Frank Schaeffer, Alex Jones and many others. I read materials put out by my denomination, PCUSA, and am a faithful reader of Sojourners. I'm also interested in sources outside this country so I watch or listen to the BBC and have even read numerous articles from Telegraph Blogs in the UK. In addition, I have read and in some cases taken part in numerous discussions on Facebook regarding health care reform. I took the time to watch Michael Moore's documentary about the insurance industry, "Sicko". I have friends in Canada, England and France with whom I have discussed health care. None of this makes me an expert but coupled with my experience as an R.N. I do believe it makes me at least as well-informed as the average American.

I won't pretend that I have all the answers and I must admit that over the past few years my views have changed. The more information I obtain, the more I ponder the issues and the more I think about how my faith informs my views, the more I lean toward the belief that America needs universal health care. More to the point, I believe there should be a public option. Yes, I know this flies in the face of my libertarian political leanings but I've never fit neatly in any box.

I've been planning to write a blog post about the health care debate for quite awhile but the right moment and impetus just hadn't presented itself. Until today when I read a certain blog post. I should tell you that I read lots of blogs. I mean...I read LOTS of blogs. I read the blogs of people from all walks of life, all sorts of political and religious beliefs, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, American and foreign. It's amazing how much perspective you get on people in general by doing this. And once in awhile you read something that makes you go, "Wow! Why hadn't I thought of that?". Today was one of those days.

Instead of paraphrasing, I'm going to quote directly from the blog that gave me that reaction today and then direct you to Recollected Life itself so you can read the rest. (I'm never quite certain what proper protocol is for quoting from blogs but just want to make sure I'm giving proper credit.)

Don't we already have a public option? A state-monopoly, tax-funded, no one is exempt, you pay even if you don't use it because we have decided the country has a vested interest, public option ... for education?

That's the model I think we ought to use. There should be publicly funded and publicly available health care the same way there is publicly funded and publicly available schooling everyone has a right to benefit from. There should also be every other option on the table, all of it legal, and all of it available to willing participants.

This seems so obvious when you think about it. As a nation, we long ago decided that all of our citizens should have access to free, basic education. It is considered to be in everyone's best interest to have an educated population so we all pay for it with our taxes, even if we personally do not participate in public schools. I spent almost a decade homeschooling my kids but we still paid taxes to fund public schools. And I'm totally fine with that.

So, what if we as a nation, like every other industrialized nation, determined that it is in everyone's best interest to provide at least basic health care to everyone? Hmm...

Frank Schaeffer wrote a compelling post yesterday which I urge you to read. He outlines a bit of the history of how America came to value "privacy, choice and profit" over Christian altruism and simple civic-mindedness. He writes:

Now in the USA we have the worst of all possible worlds: a leftist/libertarian addiction to personal private space, in which no one is allowed to tell anyone else what they should do, combined with this weird anti-Christian "Christian" right wing notion that everything -- even trains, the post office, our infrastructure and medicine, and now even a big chunk of the military (via "contractors") -- must be run for a for-profit motive.
When former insurance company executive Wendell Potter witnessed almost 2,000 Americans receiving health care in animal stalls he was stunned. He ultimately gave up his job with all its executive perks and decided to testify about insurance industry abuses at congressional hearings on health care reform. His conscience got the better of him and he could no longer justify the lavish benefits he received from an industry which has contributed greatly to the health care crisis in this country. You can read more about Wendell Potter and the nearly 2,000 Appalachians receiving health care at a fairgrounds here.

If you aren't moved by compassion for the needy, then perhaps a look at what it is costing us to not have a public plan would be of interest:

Some of the costs of not having a public option are simple to calculate, but immeasurable in value. Infant mortality rates in the United States are 6.37 deaths/1,000 live births. A sampling of other industrialized nations with public health care finds the United Kingdom at 5.01 deaths / 1,000 live births. Canada at 4.63. France at 3.41. If the United States infant mortality matched that of the United Kingdom, just under 6,000 fewer infants would have died in the United States last year. If we could match France around 13,000 fewer infants would have died.

I know that most Americans are loathe to give up choices regarding their health care, which is understandable. But what if we could have both? What if we took some Health Care Lessons From France?

In France, the national insurance program is funded mostly by payroll and income taxes. Those payments go to several quasi-public insurance funds that then negotiate with medical unions to set doctors' fees. (Doctors can choose to work outside this system, and a growing minority now charge what patients are willing to pay out of pocket.) The government regulates most hospital fees. This system works collectively to keep costs down.

"There are no uninsured in France," says Victor Rodwin, a professor of health policy at New York University, who is affiliated with the International Longevity Center. "That's completely unheard of. There is no case of anybody going broke over their health costs. In fact, the system is so designed that for the 3 or 4 or 5 percent of the patients who are the very sickest, those patients are exempt from their co-payments to begin with. There are no deductibles."

I've looked at this issue from every angle I can think of. Personal, financial, justice, rights vs. responsibilities, but for me it has ultimately come down to a moral issue. As a person of deep faith I believe that a nation is only as strong as its weakest members and that we have a moral imperative to take care of "the least of these".

Sojourners offers the following Christian Creed on Health-Care Reform:

As one of God's children, I believe that protecting the health of each human being is a profoundly important personal and communal responsibility for people of faith.

I believe God created each person in the divine image to be spiritually and physically healthy. I feel the pain of sickness and disease in our broken world (Genesis 1:27, Romans 8:22).

I believe life and healing are core tenets of the Christian life. Christ's ministry included physical healing, and we are called to participate in God's new creation as instruments of healing and redemption (Matthew 4:23, Luke 9:1-6; Mark 7:32-35, Acts 10:38). Our nation should strive to ensure all people have access to life-giving treatments and care.

I believe, as taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, that the measure of a society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. The current discussion about health-care reform is important for the United States to move toward a more just system of providing care to all people (Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:31-45).

I believe that all people have a moral obligation to tell the truth. To serve the common good of our entire nation, all parties debating reform should tell the truth and refrain from distorting facts or using fear-based messaging (Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:14-15, 25; Proverbs 6:16-19).

I believe that Christians should seek to bring health and well-being (shalom) to the society into which God has placed us, for a healthy society benefits all members (Jeremiah 29:7).

I believe in a time when all will live long and healthy lives, from infancy to old age (Isaiah 65:20), and "mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Revelation 21:4). My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters who watch their loved ones suffer, or who suffer themselves, because they cannot afford a trip to the doctor. I stand with them in their suffering.

I believe health-care reform must rest on a foundation of values that affirm each and every life as a sacred gift from the Creator (Genesis 2:7).

Amen. I couldn't say it better myself.


jaci said...

A very thought-provoking post, Deanna. I have not done my homework (yet) on this issue (so many other things clogging my brain's neurons at the moment), but I know so many people between a rock and a hard place. I also understand how hard it is for the company I work for to provide quality and affordable healthcare to its employees. This is the first year that I have opted out of the company offered health care because - guess what? - I am well covered by Don's insurance. But we are among the Very Lucky Ones.

Thank you.

Karyn said...

Excellent post! Thanks for this.

Deanna said...

Thanks for your comments. This post sparked such a good discussion on Facebook -- precisely the sort of dialog this nation should be having instead of bringing guns to town hall meetings and screaming.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for citing my thought on the matter, Deanna. I'm like you. At first, I thought "government takeover" and all the knee-jerk reaction free people have to the notion closely followed that thought. But I've done some thinking since then, and I've changed my mind a bit. There is a certain amount of "public good" that is simply in EVERYbody's interest - not necessarily profitable in a market sense, but profitable in a moral sense.

And it drives me freaking NUTS that we spend the most money, but still lose the most babies to various problems, live a shorter amount of time comparatively, and have more systemic disease. There is something wrong here, and I have a growing suspicion that it starts with the idea of "the common good" of a free people.

Cherie said...

Deanna, thanks for another great post. You certainly have done your homework and I thank you for that. More Americans need to look at this issue with clear eyes and stop allowing themselves to be manipulated by those with an agenda. In light of my recent trip to Haiti, I shared with a fellow traveler that although our infant mortality rate is better than Haiti's, it is worse than the Dominican Republic's. I could tell she had a hard time believing it.

BTW, I LOVE Sojourners. Discovering that publication helped save my faith when I moved to this fundamentalist corner of the world where I was viewed as being un-Christian for some of my views.

Deanna said...

Cherie: I receive the daily Sojourners updates and read online but I am enjoying it so much I may subscribe to the print version. I've dropped all of my magazine subscriptions over the past couple of years but this one might be worth the paper. ;)

Thanks to all for your kind comments. I know that a lot of people don't agree with me on this issue (which is fine) but it's always nice to get a little validation, especially from fellow-Christians.